Help me find a Bible and a Koran.
December 14, 2006 9:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm an atheist -- help me find a study Bible and/or study Koran.

No, this is not a conversion, and yes, I know it's been asked before.

I don't care about genealogies. I don't care about accurate historical timelines in the ages of Moses and Jesus Mohammed and archaeological support, and I don't care about the true word of God. I'd kinda resent paying money for them, too -- the clear exception is for the denser sections, I'd appreciate a nice cast of characters to keep my mind clear.

What I do care about is the effect of Christianity and Islam on the world and a sort of historiography of the interpretation of many verses. Something that would relate lines to Christian or Islamic practices over time would be lovely; barring that, a nice, clear, balanced and scholarly discussion of individual verses and their intent would be nice.

For the study bible, I want Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha. As for the Koran, my knowledge is limited, so help me out here.

Can you suggest anything?

And yes, I am seriously considering the Oxford Study Bible, and the Koran translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Religion & Philosophy (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, since you don't seem to want to pay anything, but you still want to study, I would suggest BibleGateway. It has multiple full-text translations of the Bible which are available in an excellent searchable database.
posted by Aanidaani at 9:44 PM on December 14, 2006

Best answer: The essential question you have to answer is whether you are studying the bible and the koran for academic reasons, because you are an athiest; or for personal reasons, because you are a seeker.

This will really influence your choice. I would suggest that instead of reading either book that you consider some books that look at the historicity of both Koran and the bible. The History of God and Islam by Karen Armstrong are good places to start. For Christianity, the works of John Shelby Spong are accessible. For a denser, more systematic Christian discussion of the New Testament I read the annotated companion to the New International Version, but Fortress Press publishes some excellent study bibles. For the Koran, Fiqh-al-Imam from Grove Press of California is a good start on the laws and grace of Islam. You might also check out the reading list of the Zaituna Institute of Oakland, CA.

Considering that for the lay person, so few books offer a systematic study of faiths, you might contact a local college to ask for suggestions from a theology professor. Mosques often have Q-A sessions and debates on scripture that are often involved but non-proselytizing. Consider calling around.
posted by parmanparman at 9:47 PM on December 14, 2006

Best answer: I was always a fan of Muhammad Asad's translation .
posted by tumult at 9:47 PM on December 14, 2006

I second the recommendation of Karen Armstrong's 'A History of God'. You might want to read this either before or in conjunction with the primary sources themselves.
posted by plep at 11:18 PM on December 14, 2006

I would very highly recomend Donald Akenson's "Surpassing Wonder" for an extremely well written historical examination of the bible. I just finished his more recent book "Saint Saul" which is also a great read.
posted by Riemann at 11:55 PM on December 14, 2006

Best answer: Your post mentioned that you are primarily looking for a study Bible or Koran, but something to keep in mind as well is that the influence of both Christianity and Islam in the world is not strictly limited to those texts. Commentaries and decrees from religious leaders such as the Catholic canon and Islamic hadiths also play a role in the religions and subsequent practice.

FWIW, I'm majoring in religion and culture (sometimes called world religions in other universities) and I can make some suggestions based on course readings that I've had in the past.

I echo all the people above who have recommended Karen Armstrong, she is a good resource for learning more about Islam and is often on the reading list for courses on Islam. My study copy of the Koran is the translation by A. Yusuf Ali.

A good reference to have is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, should you ever need to look up any specifics.

A book that would aid your understanding of Christianity and the history of the world is David Chidester's Christianity: A Global History - it was the main reading for a course I took a course in modern Christianity. If you're looking for something more visual, Owen Chadwick's A History of Christianity is a good resource as well. World Religions: Western Traditions by William Oxtoby is also a book worth checking out - it has chapters on the Jewish, Zoroastrian, Chrisitan and Islamic traditions. For graduate students at my school, it is required reading for their comprehensive examination.

Hope it helps!
posted by perpetualstroll at 12:46 AM on December 15, 2006

A nice online resource might be The Skeptics Annotated Bible/Quran, which not only has your standard bible verse but a nice atheists point of view to go along with it.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:11 AM on December 15, 2006

Response by poster: To expand:

I am not looking for proof or disproof of God -- I am not looking to converting. I adore Karen Armstrong and have read her books in the past, including History of God, so more suggestions along those lines would be nice. The Skeptic's Annotated Bible leans far too heavy on one side of the fence for my liking.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:42 AM on December 15, 2006

Best answer: I'm rather fond of the New Oxford Annotated. The translation it contains is indifferent — neither as beautiful as the KJV nor as strictly accurate as some of the other modern versions — but the essays and annotations are very helpful. They're nicely "agnostic," too; the editors gladly bring up matters of faith when they're important for understanding the text, but they're just as happy to set religion aside and discuss scholarly issues like the authorship or age of individual passages.

(And congratulations on reading these lovely books with a level head! They really are much more rewarding if you just poke around and see what you can find, rather than looking for "proof," for mistakes, or for things to be offended by.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:07 AM on December 15, 2006

Best answer: If you don't mind a more scholarly approach than I would strongly recommend The Vision of Islam by Murata and Chittick. It is probably the best book on Islam one can read as an introductory text, although it doesn't do much hand-holding.
I have a soft spot for the traditional English of Pickthall's translation of the Quran - does a better job at rendering the poetic text of the original, though most of the meaning is still lost in translation.
posted by raheel at 5:31 AM on December 15, 2006

I second Muhammad Asad; he has copious extracts from the traditional commentaries, which show how the (often obscure) text has been interpreted by Muslims over the centuries.
posted by languagehat at 7:25 AM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

On the Quran, I'm going to dissent and give props to the Yusuf Ali translation. Everyone I've talked to says it strikes a good balance between readability and the actual message.
posted by reenum at 7:40 AM on December 15, 2006

Sorry, didn't see that you had already considered the Yusuf Ali translation. Still, that is the one to go with. If you truly want to study a subject, you must consult the most thorough and understandable materials.
posted by reenum at 7:43 AM on December 15, 2006

Best answer: This is not a study Bible - rather a study of the Bible and the ways it's been interpreted - but I found Robin Lane Fox's Truth and Fiction in the Bible fascinating. He writes as an atheist and discusses some of the ways particular narratives have been interpreted to support particular points. And I haven't read, but have had on my list for ages, Frank Kermode and Robert Alter's Literary Guide to the Bible. Not sure that this will be quite what you want, but if you are interested in the effect individual verses have had it might help to consider the ways writers, artists and critics have interpreted them and made them known more widely. Kermode is an amazing writer, I think - haven't read anything by Alter.
posted by paduasoy at 3:44 PM on December 15, 2006

Ditch the study bibles and go for the Good News Bible. It's translated by a group of scholars with the intention of bringing an easy-to-read version of the King James to the (poor and undereducated) general populous. It is written in extremely straightforward language and is actually a pleasant read.
I have a degree in Eastern Classics and have read TONS of primary religious material in translation and -trust me- there is nothing I am more thankful for than simple and clear language. Not even scholarly notes, which tend (especially with the much-studied Bible) toward the microscopically nitpicky.
posted by simonemarie at 10:01 PM on January 5, 2007

The RSV (NOT NRSV) translation is the closest English translation to the Greek and Hebrew texts.

And I HIGHLY recommend A Rereading of Romans, by Stanley Stowers. Oh the mistakes of exegesis a classicist can correct...
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:14 PM on February 2, 2007

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